Don't follow the leader

The Life: Is being a leader in an emerging market different than anywhere else? You better believe it.

Leaders need to invest considerable time in training, coaching and mentoring the workforce on the job. istockphoto.com
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In a recent interview, I was introduced as being an expert in emerging market leadership, which was followed by the question: "Is there any difference in leading in the emerging markets as compared to the developed markets?" This question is the most frequent one that I am asked.

The answer: Yes, it is different.

When speaking of leading in the emerging markets, we are using a very broad definition that encompasses most of the markets that are outside the "developed market" classification. So in technical terms, this includes the classically defined emerging markets, frontier markets and ones being considered for inclusion in the index. And, personally, I believe it is dangerous territory to lump together all of the emerging and frontier markets, but there are clear similarities when it comes to leading.

There is a global consistency in what leadership is, as every company requires leaders to help direct and fulfil its strategic vision. However, the confusion comes in mistaking the "what" and "how" of leadership because there are vast differences in terms of styles of leadership, focus on task versus consideration, charisma and transformation compared with tactical knowledge and strategy. Using a simplified definition of leadership as "what and how a leader does to and for his or her followers to achieve a common goal" at the highest level, we can say that the ideals of "what leadership is" are universal but "how" one leads is not.

The reason that leading in the emerging markets is different is that it has a different set of population fundamentals. After all, it is people that leaders lead.

Those fundamentals are:

First-generation corporate citizens: for the majority of the employees they are the first in their families to hold a corporate job.

Youth bulge: the youth population is ahead of the aging West by a factor of 10 when you consider the net size of the youth population.

Expanding beyond agriculture and government work: the recent history has been monopolised by an agrarian and government background. However, in the current generation more employees have been joining the ranks of private industry through their rural to urban migration and expansion of some of the world's largest and fastest-growing cities.

Diversity squared: This is specific to the GCC. The real uniqueness here is that most companies have 25 to 35, or more, different nationalities represented on their local payroll on the same team in the same office location.

The world seems to have a split between corporate societies, where the private sector has been a dominant part of life for multiple generations and parts of the world that are first-generation corporate societies. The primary difference between the corporate societies and first-generation corporate societies is that the former group emerged during the era of industrialisation and the latter remained as agricultural, government and cottage industry societies until the recent generation. Now they are experiencing massive development.

So, what is central to leading in the emerging markets is that every manager and leader needs to recognise that the workforce is young and ambitious but often lacks experience and a background in the corporate environment. What should managers and leaders do to overcome those deficiencies? They need to invest considerable time in training, coaching and mentoring on the job.

Dr Tommy Weir is an authority on fast-growth and emerging-market leadership, and author of The CEO Shift